Sara Henning is author of a full-length collection of poetry, A Sweeter Water (2013), and a chapbook, To Speak of Dahlias (2012). Her poetry, fiction, interviews, and book reviews have appeared or are forthcoming from Willow Springs, Bombay Gin and the Crab Orchard Review. Currently a doctoral student in English and Creative Writing at the University of South Dakota, she serves as Managing Editor for The South Dakota Review.
A New Year
New Year’s Eve and I’m at a Steak N’ Shake twelve miles from Graceland.
This side of Memphis is haunted by strip malls, women ready to cat fight for a plum parking spot. This side of Memphis, it’s smart to lock your doors against the men shape-shifting, cruising for something easy. They’re sometimes boys, sometimes ghosts, sometimes here already, ready to slip right into you.
The most I know of Memphis is a friend’s mister before she dumped him, tight jeans, six-string, empty cans of Keystone like a halo around him when he’d play through the night. Always the same man over and over. She had a thing for being able to picture the next move. That way you can fall into everything, she’d tell me. That way you know how far you’re going to fall.
She didn’t have to tell me: when stereotypes become real, that’s when to run.
At the Steak N’ Shake I’m waiting for a storm to pass. Mississippi to Memphis, torrent to torrent. I’d forgotten how a southern wind can bite harder than a dry cold—the kind wet enough to reach past my coat and clutch my hips, softest part of the sacral ledge. The place where a woman bends and is liable to break. Because I’m far from home, chewing through my straw, because I’m hours from a new year crowning in its lunar canal, I watch the thick wasted blonde a few booths down, her jeans 80’s shredded up to the crotch. She’s ignoring her fries, her man is biting into his burger over and over. I wonder if they are on a date. I wonder if they are drunk. I wonder if this is the first booth they’ve sidled in next to each other, or if they just have nowhere else to go.
Once I lived on a road where women sold their bodies for a fix. There was this one named Tammy—acid washed capris, peek-a-boo stilettos, her toes painted crimson. I was friendly with her in the way a girl needs to be in order to survive, to be open but not so open that what’s breaking inside of her has a chance to slip through her blouse. Open but not so open that the parts of her cossetted and stained by winter don’t surge out like some epileptic miracle.
When I was twenty-four, I drove from Virginia to Georgia through the night without stopping. Two interstates, Atlanta’s Spaghetti Junction. Every twenty minutes, a voicemail.
He’d say, I’ve smashed everything you left with a hammer. He’d say, I’ve burned all of your clothes. Over and over.
New Year’s Eve, Steak N’ Shake, how the TV station will switch from the baby dropping in Jackson Square to the peach dropping in Atlanta at midnight, always something dropping. Always a sacrifice in order to start over. And if I stay long enough, I can watch the couple slip past me and out of the door. I can watch them drive off into the night.
And what can I say, I’m always running.
I’m wondering if they’ll park somewhere, go home together, what they’ll mean to each other by morning.